'We have to be sensitive to owners' needs'

SINGAPORE - A civl engineer by training, Mr Nelson Liew did not imagine his job as collector would eventually mean being a "one-stop shop" for land owners affected by acquisition.

As a collector, the 35-year-old makes sure the voices of these owners are heard, especially when it comes to matters of compensation and relocation.

Take the recent case of Pearls Centre, which the Government wanted back for the Thomson Line.

Collectors were put on standby 24 hours a day in the first week of the announcement in August last year, in case owners called them with questions.

"Acquisition is never easy on the owners. We have to be sensitive to their needs and emotions," said Mr Liew, who has been a collector for 10 years.

Collectors today take a softer approach in their work.

Whereas owners in the past would be notified of the acquisition with just a notice on their door, collectors these days must meet them face-to-face to deliver the news.

It also helps that concessions have been given where feasible.

Pearls Centre residents, many of whom were older and had been living and operating there for a long time, had their advance payment increased from the usual 20 per cent to 80 per cent.

The rationale was that this group would not have been able to get bank loans for a replacement property given their advanced years. Commercial tenants were also given up to $30,000 each to relocate, where there would have been no recompense before.

In addition, a one-year extension, up to August 2015, was given to these owners to find their feet.

Businessman Lo Hock Ling, 84, who owned 20 Pearls Centre units, is thankful for the work done by collectors.

"It's the Government's plan and everyone has to make sacrifices. In this case, the sacrifice was adequately compensated and the hardship eased by the collectors.

"Some of us have become good friends in fact."

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